Ever since my early teens I have loved to write – journals, poetry, short stories. I’ve always been part of a book club or a creative writing group. In my early twenties, a magazine even published one of my first articles and I remember being paid £75 – quite a lot of money back then! In that moment of triumph, I recall giving thought to becoming a ‘proper’ writer.
‘Wouldn’t that be good?’
But it was an idea immediately followed by more realistic thoughts.
‘I already have a job as a PA. I can’t give that up. How would I pay the bills, keep my flat?’
So that was that. The writing was no more than a hobby. Until my mid-forties, that is, when I felt the need to write about my father’s death. It was a time in which things just seemed to happen, a period of my life that felt almost fictional. The seed of a novel began to take hold and I didn't fight it. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I realised life’s just too-damn-short.
So I wrote my first draft. Then, over a year later, I re-surfaced with the question ‘What do I do now?’ I chatted to a couple of creatives I know who recommended I pick up a copy of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. After doing some reading, I took the decision to invest in myself and my book.
First up, I found a fantastic editor who then helped me re-draft, and re-title the book several times. It was so exciting to work with someone who could see the story I wanted to tell; who could help me grow it and nurture it with an invaluable, fresh pair of eyes.
The next step, however, caused me to stall. I went through the painful process of trying to find an agent which, I’m afraid to say, beat me down. Maybe sooner than it should have, to be honest. But I was eager to allow my characters a chance to live, and to begin to earn some money, to pay back that investment. I was going to have the book published by the time I turned 50, and time was running out.
So I began to do more research into self-publishing/indie publishing. And the more I did, the more I was attracted to it. I began to work with I_AM Self-Publishing, who helped me update my website, design my cover and offered marketing advice. As all of these processes became clearer, so did the reality that not only could I do this, but I could do it well. My manuscript was eventually converted into an e-pub, a paperback arrived for me to approve, then, earlier this month, I clicked the button and now I have a book. A real, live book, with real live characters, and what’s more: REAL LIVE READERS!
This November, I hired a manor house in Devon to celebrate not only my 50th birthday, but the birth of my novel with twenty or so special friends and family. They even surprised me with a cake in the shape of a book, open at chapter 50. It tasted delicious.
I am happy to say that since then, my local branch of Waterstones has agreed to host my launch and I have have found someone to help me with my PR (Authoright) and get the puclicity that I need, not only in the UK but in the US as well. It really is so exciting to be finally achieving something that I’ve always, always wanted to do. Yes, I do have a high target and need to sell 1000s of copies of my book in order to break even. But who says that can’t happen? In fact, who says anything can’t happen, once you put your mind to it?
Justine's first novel, Gilding the Lily, is now available on Amazon and she is beginning to write her second. She lives in the inspiring Surrey Hills, just south of London, with her husband, two Dalmatians and two horses. Follow her on Twitter at @JustineCJohn and read her blog on www.justinejohn.co.uk